Iran: Nuke Report Means US Should Ease

The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 4, 2007; 6:23 PM

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran on Tuesday touted a new U.S. intelligence report as vindication that its nuclear program is peaceful. But it was unclear if the finding would lead to any immediate warming in U.S.-Iranian relations, including on key issues like Iraq.

Iranian officials insisted Washington should take a less hawkish stance and drop attempts to impose new sanctions in light of the report's conclusion that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and has shown no signs of resuming.

President Bush ruled out any change in policy. He said sanctions were still needed to force Iran to stop uranium enrichment, which he warned could be used for building atomic warheads someday. France and Britain also said pressure must be maintained on Tehran.

Even Russia, which urges continued negotiations rather than more sanctions, said Iran must open its nuclear program fully to international scrutiny and keep it under control of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, disputed the U.S. conclusions, saying Israeli intelligence believes Iran is still trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said that "it is vital to continue efforts to prevent Iran from attaining (nuclear) capability." Israel is believed to have its own arsenal of nuclear weapons, the only stockpile in the Mideast.

David Albright, a former U.N. nuclear inspector and now head of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, said Israel's view meant the military option hasn't been taken off the table by the report.

Albright said Israel is looking not just at Iran's solely military efforts but at its uranium enrichment processes, which have potential military applications. "The situation can become tense if they decided their red line has been crossed," he said.

But Iran is clearly hopeful the unclassified summary of the National Intelligence Estimate, released Monday, will weaken the Western push for new sanctions over Tehran's refusal to obey a U.N. Security Council order to suspend uranium enrichment.

"The U.S. and its allies should accept nuclear rights of the Iranian nation. There is no other way, of course," President Mahmoud Ahmadeinejad said during a meeting with the Swedish ambassador, without directly mentioning the new report, according to the presidency Web site.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the U.S. will face more failure if it doesn't change its stance. "Our advice is that they correct their mistakes regarding Iran's nuclear issue," he told state television.

Mottaki's spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said the U.S. report prove Washington's warnings over the danger of the Iranian nuclear program "are baseless and unreliable."

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